Monday, July 20, 2009

Dinner With Friends

Recently I hosted a big dinner party at home, with friends visiting from out of town. I served on the redwood table on the back porch. I had planned the meal for a few days beforehand, and done shopping and preparations. Afterwards, I was really tired, but it was a good dinner. The extra glass of wine, sitting on the porch, as the dusk surrounded the house after folks had left, was soothing.

Since I had to change my diet and go gluten-free a year and a half ago, I have been learning to bake all over again. A lot of the cuisines I have been cooking and eating for years were already virtually gluten-free—a lot of Asian cuisines use rice rather than wheat products as a matter of course—and others have been not hard to modify—I love Italian, and am a major user of Marcella Hazan's recipes, especially her classic book Essentials of Italian Cooking.

For this dinner, I had envisioned and invented a sort of Italian pan-roasted chicken variation. I cut chicken breasts the long way and pan-roasted the strips on the stove in my largest pan, lightly covering them with lemon juice, minced garlic, and a pinch of rosemary. I turned the strips a couple of times, and let them roast on the stove for about 25 minutes on low-medium heat. Then, for the last two minutes of cooking, I glazed the chicken with a reduced-orange glaze I’d made the night before—the juices of two oranges, simmered slowly on low heat for about two hours, with a pinch of tarragon—sprinkled them with more minced garlic flakes, and broiled them for two minutes to brown the glaze. I also dribbled small chunks of Boursin cheese on top of the chicken, which added another spot of flavor; as the cheese melted and browned under the broiler, and the orange glaze browned, the dish was all done.

The chicken was then served on a platter, on a bed of rinsed spinach. The heat from the chicken wilted the spinach just a little bit. The orange glaze wasn’t at all sweet, but tart and citrus, and the pinch of tarragon added a complementary savory flavor. The only flaw in this recipe was that the chicken was the tiniest bit dry; I think next time I make this, more of the juice from the pan-roasting phase needs to follow the chicken into the broiler, to keep it moist. But the flavor was terrific.

I served the chicken with saffron rice, with raisins in it. Everybody seemed to think the meal was delicious, and the raisin-saffron rice was a good complement. I only used just a tiny amount of saffron, so it didn’t color the rice much, but did a hint of flavor to it.

I served the meal with a favorite pinot grigio from Tuscany.

I had seen this meal in my mind’s eye a few days before, but I did look up pan-roasted chicken in Marcella Hazan’s cookbook, just to make sure about timings and flavors.

For dessert, my former neighbor J. made a black raspberry silk pie in a gluten-free pie shell, from berries she’d picked from her garden around his house. We had that with Cool Whip on top. I had made a key lime pie, too, only this time I had gotten a bag full of key limes from Mexico; we juiced about 30 of the little limes at great personal peril to make the pie. It takes about a cup of juice for a big pie—those gluten-free pie shells are about double the size of the store-bought regular pie shells, so they hold a double recipe. We made a but more juice then needed, so the pie came out extra-tart, which was wonderful. I’ll probably make key lime pies most of ten from the store-bought juice that’s really good (Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice), but this was a good experiment, and a good result.

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